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Ask Well: Maximal Heart Rate

Correction Appended

A You might reasonably assume that the maximal heart rate formula of 220 minus age is based on a large, reliable body of data, since it is so widely employed by coaches, athletes, physicians, and used as the basis of the target-heart-rate posters hanging in your local gym. But in fact, the formula has been largely discredited in recent years.

Origi nally deriv ed by comp iling data from studi es cond ucted in the 1960s and ?70s of cardiac health among adult men, the formula was a drastic simplification of the findings, said Ulrik Wisloff, the director of the K.G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who recently oversaw a new study of heart rate calculation. From the first, the formula was not precisely accurate for almost anyone, he said, but its simplicity was appealing. The more researchers study the issue, however, the more unreliable the formula proves. A largescale 2010 study of women, for instance, concluded that the proper numbers for that sex should be 206 minus 88 percent of a woman?s age, while various studies of older adults, college students, adolescents and children each have concluded that the standard formula was wrong for them, too. ?The traditional formula can underestimate heart rate max by up to 40 beats per minute in seniors,? Dr. Wisloff said, ?and starts becoming inaccurate already at the age of 30 or 40 years.?

Instead, according to his group?s recent examinations of 3,320 men and women between the ages of 19 and 89 who participated in a wide-ranging health study in Norway, a better formulation for both sexes would be 211 minus 64 percent of age. Should your brain, like mine, revolt at the thought of the math required to determine maximum heart rate with those numbers, Dr. Wisloff?s lab has posted a simple calculator online. Bear in mind that knowing sell my gift card your maximum heart rate is ?not needed to have effective training sessions,? Dr. Wisloff pointed out. ?But many people find it motivating,? especially when the formula is correct.

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C o r r e c t i o n : F e b r u a r y 1 0 , 2014 An earlier version of this post misstated a formula for calculating maximal heart rate. It is 211 minus 64 percent of age, not 211 minus 0.64 percent of age.

A version of this article appears in print on 02/11/2014, on page D4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Finding the Right Heart Rate.